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The Rise and Fall of Belarus' Geopolitical Strategy

The Rise and Fall of Belarus' Geopolitical Strategy

By deploying a combination of foreign policy analysis tools at the system, state and, to a certain extent, individual level this article is undertaking to trace the trajectory and some critical junctions of Belarus' foreign policy strategy in the 21st century. Special focus is given to the implications of president Alexander Lukashenko's recent crackdown on domestic opposition for the mechanism of geopolitical balancing between Russia and the West that has been in place for more than a decade.

The world financial and economic crisis has sharpened contradictions between Belarus and Russia and forced Minsk to seek ways for cooperation with Western partners. After the beginning of the normalization of relations with the European Union the Belarusian authorities have intensified its policy of balancing between the East and the West. For Minsk the EU's role in this arrangement has grown beyond its previous rhetorical importance. Belarus has actively tried to equalize its Eastern and Western policy poles and also to complement them with a new "Southern arc" by boosting relationships with Asian, Latin American, and the Arab states.

Under the conditions of globalization Minsk started to use networking geopolitical technologies to promote cooperation with China, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Libya, Syria and other states, which are geographically distant, but whose political and economic interests are in various degrees compatible with those of Belarus. In this way Minsk has attempted to become a political and economic player outside its traditional geopolitical zone and to compensate for the costs of problematic dealings with its neighbors Russia and the EU.

Meanwhile, because of a reluctant and forced adaptation to the external environment Belarus' foreign policy remains extremely contradictory and despite some correctives it retains many inadequate tenets.

A brutal dispersal by the Belarusian authorities of a peaceful action of pro-democratic forces on the day of presidential elections (December 19, 2010) and the following massive political repressions became a watershed that marked the failure of the regime's preceding domestic and foreign policies, exposed its obsession with power and destroyed the balancing mechanism for its geopolitical ‘avatars’ designed individually for the East, West and ‘South’.

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Territorial Defence and Partisan Resistance (Lithuania’s Experience)


In the 21st century - as in the first half of the 20th century - Lithuania has faced threats posed to its national security and statehood. Owing to its limited resources, the country is not essentially able to establish large regular forces; therefore, it is permanently developing its territorial defence forces. In the interwar period, their nucleus was formed by the Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union, while in the 21st century it is by the National Defence Volunteer Forces. While modelling new concepts of territorial defence, it is inevitable to consider not only the practices of other countries and their military theories but also Lithuania’s national experience. Of course, this is the experience of 1990-2004, but in the first part of the 20th century the idea of territorial defence was also put into practice and cultivated at the theoretical level. Another aspect is that territorial defence in practice is inextricably entwined with the tactics of guerrilla warfare and their application. Lithuania’s historical experience and analysis of its territorial defence and partisan war is not only knowledge for its own sake. It may have tangible practical value since Lithuania considered, premeditated and applied these notions in practice repeatedly in the first half of the 20th century. Furthermore, the geographical location of the country and distribution of eventual sources of conflict in comparison with the interwar period have virtually not changed. In the interwar period, East Prussia, part of Germany and separated by the Polish Corridor, had been a semi-exclave up until September 1939. Similarly, it is only by sea and air that this territory is accessible at present, though now a subject of the Russian Federation as the Kaliningrad region. Due to geopolitical transformations, after World War II the ‘enemy from the East’ had moved geographically to Western Lithuania. There exists a similar situation on the south-eastern border of Lithuania, where a none-too-friendly interwar Poland changed to a Belarus governed by Alexander Lukashenko. Lithuania’s northern border with Latvia, also a NATO member at present, remains unchanged and comparatively safe; in the interwar period, only attempts were made to discuss the idea of having mutual defence although Latvia had planned to provide some support for the Lithuanian forces in the case of a Wehrmacht attack from East Prussia to the East. So it is expedient to elaborate on what attention the Lithuanian Armed Forces in the interwar period paid to the history of war, what kind of experience of the 20th century territorial defence and partisan resistance they gained, and how this may be of value to defence experts in the 21st century.

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’Belarus – a significant chess piece on the chessboard of regional security

Belarusian Armed Forces: A Military-Political Analysis 1991-2003, Malak K. (2003), Polityka zagraniczna i bezpieczeństwa Białorusi, Mironowicz E. (2011), Polityka zagraniczna Białorusi 1990-2010, Parker S. (2007) The Last Soviet Republic. Alexander Lukashenko’s Belarus, Pazura G. (2010) Siły zbrojne republiki Białoruś, Rácz A. (2016) Friends will be friends. The new military doctrine of Belarus, in Sprūds A., Potjomkina D. (ed) Coping with Complexity in the Euro-Atlantic Community and Beyond: Rīga Conference Papers 2016, (Riga LIIA), pp. 230

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